This weekend, The Ringer staff paid their dues, did their sentence, and made bad mistakes—they saw the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody. But they came through. And although they are not the champions, they did answer a handful of questions about the movie.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Bohemian Rhapsody?
Sean Fennessey: Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Andrew Gruttadaro: A remarkably bad, messy movie that nearly saves itself with a 20-minute Queen concert at the end.
Amanda Dobbins: There’s “didn’t come together” bad, and then there’s “plain hacky” bad. Listening to Queen songs is fun, though.
Kate Halliwell: Bad movie, good music, great lead performance.
Rob Harvilla: All we hear is [clap clap] biopic ga ga [clap clap] biopic goo goo [clap clap] biopic blah blah.
Lindsay Zoladz: Not nearly as bad as I was prepared for it to be! Sure, it was a factually lopsided version of the Queen story told through the eyes of the surviving members, but I can’t stay mad at any movie that gets me closer to getting to say the words “Oscar nominee Rami Malek.”
Alyssa Bereznak: It’s as if Disney made a movie based on a theme park ride based on a 1970s rock band. Also:
i am glad i saw bohemian rhapsody for the sole reason that it inspired me to google “freddie mercury cats” and land on this photo pic.twitter.com/dvRsFCdj1n— alyssa bereznak (@alyssabereznak) November 4, 2018
2. What was the best moment of the film?
Fennessey: Mama, life had just begun. But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.
Bereznak: The Live Aid performance! Because it was scene-for-scene almost exactly like the original Live Aid performance, which was the best show Queen ever played. Also the cats.
Halliwell: Live Aid, no question. I’m a baby who had not seen that performance until this movie, but I went home and watched the real thing and was blown away by the re-creation. Thrilling stuff!
Zoladz: The uncanny re-creation of the Live Aid performance. (I spent an hour afterward watching Live Aid footage on YouTube, which is kind of the point of this movie.) But really any performance scene. And the “Bohemian Rhapsody” showdown between Rami and Mike Myers was fun too.
Dobbins: The Live Aid re-creation, obviously—though the CGI crowd was a joke, and I question the choice to do a shot-for-shot remake, if only because you lose some of Malek’s performance. You know what we have gotten better at since 1985? Camerawork!
Gruttadaro: Live Aid was manipulatively great and technically impressive, but I also really enjoyed the recording of “Bohemian Rhapsody”—a.k.a. “Bo Rhap”—especially the cut between a crowing rooster and screeching backup vocals.
Harvilla: I’m going with “We Are the Champions” because (a) my wife and I almost picked it for our first wedding dance, and (b) there was no corny dramatization of how the band wrote or recorded it.
3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?
Fennessey: I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.
Harvilla: This is tremendously minor in the grand scheme, but the insinuation that nobody was calling in to donate to Live Aid until Queen played “Hammer to Fall” is a few clicks too self-mythologizing, even amid such rampant self-mythologizing.
Zoladz: As a music critic, I found the part when they printed negative reviews of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to be both groan-worthily heavy-handed and terrifying, as it caused me to imagine Greta, the 2037 biopic about the highest-selling band in musical history, Greta Van Fleet.
Dobbins: The ham-handed and reductive treatment of Freddie Mercury’s interior life. (So basically: anything that did not involve music.)
Halliwell: Anything and everything to do with Freddie’s sexuality. Woof.
Bereznak: That stupid press conference. You can add as many experimental camera techniques to your boring media-ruins-everything scene as you want, but it won’t make it any less lazy.
Gruttadaro: Early on, when a supine Freddie Mercury played the riff of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and looked at the camera and said, “It’s got potential.” Also when Freddie slapped his butt and then the names of America cities came flying at the screen. Also the requisite “I have AIDS” cough.
4. You’ve been tasked to make a more faithful movie about Queen—what is the biggest change you make?
Fennessey: Thunderbolt and lightning. Very, very frightening me.
Halliwell: Other than cutting Bryan Singer?
Gruttadaro: I’d start by learning that 1971 comes after 1970, that 1972 comes after 1971, and so on.
Zoladz: Hire a more visually inventive director and a screenwriter who is able to think beyond rock-movie clichés? I saw the briefest flashes of Velvet Goldmine in this movie (probably just when I closed my eyes), and it got me thinking what a filmmaker like Todd Haynes would do with the Freddie Mercury story. At which point I became very sad that I wasn’t watching that movie.
Harvilla: Oh, probably just put the songs in the proper chronological order, and/or stop pretending the group broke up and then reformed solely for Live Aid, and/or make the backstage hedonism feel, like, 500 percent more fun.
Bereznak: In the late ’70s/early ’80s, Queen spent a lot of time in Munich, where Mercury reportedly explored the disco scene, had multiple affairs with men and women—including Austrian actress Barbara Valentin—and blacked out a lot. A 2014 Rolling Stone article offers a particularly vivid scene from this period: “Valentin told Lesley-Ann Jones about finding Mercury on an apartment balcony naked, singing ‘We Are the Champions’ to some construction workers below, then shouting, ‘Whoever has the biggest dick, come on up!’”
That anecdote sums up what’s missing from the movie for me. In an attempt to remain extremely PG-13, Bohemian Rhapsody glossed over a lot of the most extreme (and most telling!) moments of Mercury’s life. Alluding to Mercury’s notorious sex life and drug use with squeaky clean montages set to the band’s hits felt dishonest to his life story. We get a hint of Mercury’s struggle to fit in with his family, and society at large, but the film never actually allowed us to see the highs and lows of his search for freedom. It made the controversy over his sexuality in the latter half of the film feel somewhat hollow. So, yeah, I’d make it darker.
5. Finish the sentence: “Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury was …”
Fennessey: … a little silhouetto of a man.
Halliwell: … legitimately fantastic, and far too good for this movie.
Dobbins: … physically impressive, which I suppose is all you can ask for, given the script.
Bereznak: … perfectly fine! The prosthetic teeth took some getting used to, but his portrayal of Mercury was pretty compelling. It’s unfortunate he wasn’t given a better movie to act in.
Harvilla: … an awfully impressive feat of mimicry and lip-syncing, especially for a movie that explicitly decries the idea of lip-syncing.
Gruttadaro: … Freddie Mercury, by which I mean he turned into the guy in such a complete but subtle way.
Zoladz: … MAGNIFICOOOoooOooo! While watching, I couldn’t help thinking about his performance as Elliot on Mr. Robot, and how different that is in every imaginable way from his Freddie Mercury. He excelled at both. Glue it in sequins on the back of a silk cape: Rami has the range.
6. Will Malek be nominated for an Oscar, despite the overall quality of Bohemian Rhapsody?
Fennessey: I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me. He’s just a poor boy from a poor family.
Halliwell: I sure hope so.
Gruttadaro: The role is so right-down-the-middle for the Oscars, and Malek is so good as Freddie Mercury that the movie being garbage probably won’t matter. Also, people are going to see Bohemian Rhapsody, which is probably more important than people liking Bohemian Rhapsody.
Zoladz: You better believe it.
Bereznak: Hmm, tough question. If, somehow, Meryl Streep had played Mercury in a mediocre Queen biopic, my answer would automatically be yes. Rami Malek is not Meryl Streep, so I’m gonna go with no? I wouldn’t be mad at it though.
Dobbins: I’m a little bearish on this; the straight-washing and general watering down of Freddie Mercury is not Malek’s fault, but it’s tied to his performance a bit more closely than the general film quality is. If he’d been singing, this is a no-brainer, but I don’t know if movement alone will convince voters.
Harvilla: He’ll get nominated, but get beaten like a gong by a real rock star.
7. What was Malek’s best outfit in the movie?
Fennessey: Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me.
Halliwell: Everything happening with his outfit at the party—crown, epaulets, red leather pants—was basically worth the price of admission.
Harvilla: He handled this one better than, for example, I could have.
Bereznak: I am most emotionally attached to his housewife getup in the “I Want to Break Free” music video, because Mercury’s decision to pair a little pink skirt with a thick Chevron mustache was an iconic and groundbreakingly gay fashion moment. I am most impressed by Mercury/Malek’s ability to pull off a diamond-checkered bodysuit. (That outfit also inspired me to Google whether more than one prosthetic body part was used in the making of this film, it you know what I mean.) The outfit I would most want to own is definitely the willowy pleated white thing with wings.
Zoladz: Instead, let me tell you what the WORST outfit in this or perhaps any movie: Bassist John Deacon’s ’80s-tastic Live Aid outfit. Yes, that is really what he wore. I bet that is one moment that he regretted the amount of verisimilitude used in the performance scenes.
Gruttadaro: The royal getup at the “Freddie is starting to party too hard” party was stunning. But please let me also give props to Roger Taylor’s fit—untucked white button down, Adidas track pants, sneakers—at Live Aid. He walked so that 16-year-olds who shop on Grailed could run.
8. Tag yourself as an era of Queen.
Fennessey: Nothing really matters. Anyone can see.
Gruttadaro: I’m “stands in the rain, walks back to England from Germany” solo era Freddie Mercury.
Zoladz: I’m the music video that’s banned from MTV for not respecting the sanctity of heteronormative gender roles.
Bereznak: Per the previous question, I call 1974 Queen, the period of long, unruly hair and roomy angel wing cloaks.
Halliwell: I relate to their Bad Bangs Phase on a deeply personal level.
Gruttadaro: Because concerts are really fun, and it’s way easier to write a concert than a movie.
Bereznak: As long as you can tent up the emotional arc of a movie with a couple of glamorous outfits and bangers (original or otherwise), you can probably make a bunch of money. It may be a cheap trick—pun intended!—but people just love hearing rock music played super loudly. Separately, I think more and more celebrities are angling to EGOT.
Zoladz: Because Greta Van Fleet? Nah, I kid. Maybe it’s a sense of nostalgia because we have very few actual rock stars right now? All I know for sure is that we’re far from the shallow.
Harvilla: Moviegoers love mythological creatures that either no longer exist in real life or never did. I just hope this trend lasts long enough for the two rock star movies I’ve always wanted to see: (a) Catherine Keener as Kim Deal, and (b) a dramatization of the dream I had in college where I played “Fat Bottomed Girls” at an open-mic night and a bunch of women beat me up onstage. Given that Bohemian Rhapsody made $50 million this weekend, I assume that second one’s still in play.
Dobbins: They’re like music festivals without the expense, hassle, crowds, or offensive clothing. I support it!
Halliwell: Because there’s nothing like music, fashion, and rich people to distract us from the crushing misery of our world right now!
Fennessey: Any way the wind blows.